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California mushroom farms troubled by unpredictable markets

In the last few years, high demand for mushrooms placed this crop in the company of other top-performing staples such as tomatoes, carrots and onions. However, COVID-19 shutdowns and disruptions have created unpredictable marketing conditions for California mushroom farmers.

Growers who relied mostly on selling to the hospitality industry have been particularly heavily impacted. Sales plummeted early in the pandemic when those businesses were forced to close; then restaurants slowly reopened, but in recent weeks pulled back again as the state tries to quell spikes in coronavirus cases.

"It's been pretty wild," said Santa Clara County farmer Tim Chiala, whose family operates Global Mushrooms in Gilroy, which produces white button, crimini and portabella mushrooms.

Christi Becerra, Chiala's sister and company executive manager, said mushroom orders in March "came to a quick halt" as many food-service customers—including restaurants, schools, casinos, cruise lines and corporate cafeterias for high-tech firms—stopped serving. Some of their mushrooms were diverted to processing "at a significantly discounted price," she said, adding that there was a time the company couldn't even give mushrooms away, because food banks were already inundated.

Even though business picked up as the state allowed restaurants to resume limited dine-in service in May, it was short-lived, with orders from food-service customers slowing again during the current second closure.


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